The Universe is the Practical Joke of the General at the Expense of the Particular, quoth FRATER PERDURABO, and laughed.
But those disciples nearest to him wept, seeing the Universal Sorrow.
Those next to them laughed, seeing the Universal Joke.
Below these certain disciples wept.
Then certain laughed.
Others next wept.
Others next laughed.
Next others wept.
Next others laughed.
Last came those that wept because they could not see the Joke, and those that laughed lest they should be thought not to see the Joke, and thought it safe to act like FRATER PERDURABO.
But though FRATER PERDURABO laughed openly, He also at the same time wept secretly; and in Himself He neither laughed nor wept.
Nor did He mean what He said.
The title, "Onion Peelings", refers to the well-known incident in "Peer Gynt".
The chapter resembles strongly Dupin's account of how he was able to win at the game of guessing odd or even. (See Poe's tale of "The Purloined Letter".) But this is a more serious piece of psychology. In one's advance towards a comprehension of the universe, one changes radically one's point of view; nearly always it amounts to a reversal.
This is the cause of most religious controversies. Paragraph 1, however is Frater Perdurabo's formulation of his perception of the Universal Joke, also described in Chapter 34. All individual existence is tragic. Perception of this fact is the essence of comedy. "Household Gods" is an attempt to write pure comedy. "The Bacchae" of Euripides is another.
At the end of the chapter it is, however, seen that to the Master of the Temple the opposite perception occurs simultaneously, and that he himself is beyond both of these.
And in the last paragraph it is shown that he realises the truth as beyond any statement of it.
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